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Revolutionary Yiddishland

[1]4,597 words

Alain Brossat and Sylvie Klingberg
Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism
New York: Verso, 2016.

In the relatively recent publication in English (for the first time) of the 1983 French book Revolutionary Yiddishland, Jewish authors Alain Brossat and Sylvie Klingberg document Jewish radical Leftist politics in Europe in the early to mid-20th century. It is a combination of oral history and a more theoretical analysis of collective historical memory. The authors seek to preserve what they see as the evaporating memory of an era of forward-thinking, hopeful, radical politics which centered around various communities of Jews dwelling in white countries (specifically in Central and Eastern Europe, i.e. “Yiddishland”). But they also want to shed light on how these historical memories function in the present. As such, this book must be read on two levels: first, as a fairly straight-forward history that illuminates many of the reasons why Jews have been, are, and will continue to be a threat to whites; second, as a deeper look into how Jews perceive their own political traditions and culture both in the context of white history and of Zionism. From a strictly practical perspective, the value of this book is that it is a gold mine of pertinent quotes by Jews about Jewish political and cultural attitudes which further vindicate White Nationalist positions and can be used in a wide variety of evidentiary contexts.

Revolutionary Yiddishland is, at its core, a lament for what the authors believe is a disappearing Leftist Jewish radicalism which has been subsumed into the more successful ideology of Zionism. The authors observe in the preface that when this book was written it was “still possible, with memory not yet governed by disciplinary regulations and a speech police established at the heart of the media and close to the executive and judicial powers, to write a book of this kind from a point of view decidedly different from any form of Zionist teleology” (p. x). They then go on to write that “what is at issue here is not so much the inevitably growing distance of a ‘world of yesterday’, but rather a loosening of connection from what appears today as a ‘lost world’“ (p. xi). The revolutionary politics about which they write have been buried beneath layers of Jewish cultural shifts and, from the authors’ perspective, counterrevolutionary narrative controls. Jewish history as the inevitable and triumphant march towards a Zionist Israel is now the central focus of contemporary Jewish historical understanding, which necessarily relegates other narratives–in this case “revolution”–to a position of foreignness and unreality.

In their introduction, the authors provide a brief history of the what they call the “three major currents of red Yiddishland: the communists, the Bund, and Poale Zion” (p. 6). Jewish involvement with communism is well-known but the latter groups might be unfamiliar to some readers. The Bund was an organization of Jews that was explicit in its advocacy for a specifically Jewish socialism within Europe (it opposed Zionism); its concern was for the success of Jews themselves. The authors write that it “valorized and championed Yiddish while the communists merely accepted it” (p. 73). Despite its initial communist leanings, the Bund ended up being social democratic and less radical than the Poale Zion, which advocated a communist Jewish state in Palestine. Because of its support for nationalism, it was rejected by the Comintern, which instructed Poale Zion members to join the communist parties of their respective countries. To be sure, the above is a very broad simplification, but the ideological differences between these organizations need not concern us. What matters is that, in different ways and to slightly different degrees, each of these movements was concerned with the creation of safe political and cultural spaces for Jews, at times explicitly and at other times implicitly, even, as in the case of communism, while purporting to be a “great movement of universal emancipation” (p. 51).

The book relies heavily on interviews with members of these organizations and intersperses their recollections of events and their interpretations of the cultural climate of Yiddishland with the authors’ commentary. The first chapter, “The Immense Pool of Human Tears” begins by describing Yiddishland as “a social and cultural space, a linguistic and religious world rather than a territory in the strict sense. . . [a] space interwoven with other cultural and national worlds intersecting them, supervening on them . . .” (pp. 29-30). We already see an admission of Jewish “otherness,” the sense of detachment, the lack of assimilation, a disconnection from the indigenous communities in which they had been charitably granted the right to dwell. After presenting Yiddishland as a sort of nation within nations, the authors then place it in the context of the rise of capitalism: Jews became increasingly urbanized, were increasingly allowed access to higher education, and were increasingly in competition for factory jobs with non-Jews.[1] [2] Not only did this change the internal dynamics of the Jewish world but it changed their relationship to their host populations. This new, more urban, and more educated Jewish population was instrumental in developing the numerous radical Jewish workers’ movements that swept Eastern Europe in the late 19th century. Though the authors claim that the original purpose of these movements was to radicalize Jews only for the purpose of bringing them into a grand unified, multiethnic, multiracial proletariat, based on what we know of Jewish history this seems highly unlikely–even if individual members actually believed this. However, true or not, this did not happen. These organizations became forces of both radical Leftist agitation and pro-Jewish racial solidarity.

In interviews with Jews who were involved in these movements in their youths, one theme recurs: the tension between Jewish tradition and the new radicalism which accompanied the rise of capitalism. One young Jew, for example, who had been offered a ham sandwich by another young atheist Communist Jew was terrified to eat it but did so to prove his radical credentials (p. 40). Another Jew was beaten by his father for having his side-locks cut because he did not want to be mocked at a meeting of radicals (p. 40). These were new pressures on their communities but, as the authors point out “despite the cleavages that ran through Yiddishland, despite the instability of this world, community and family ties remained strong: a continuation of traditional values that is explained by the persistent mechanisms of rejection by the surrounding society” (p. 44). Or, to put it another way, no matter what problems Jews faced, ultimately nothing mattered as much to them as their perception of being oppressed because they were Jews.

It is obvious that despite the universalism in which their political goals were often couched, these Jews arrived in this political realm through their Jewishness in the first place. Their feelings of alienation and hostility towards whites is apparent. One communist Jew quoted in the book remarked that “as anti-Semitism and political repression grew, in the 1930s, the more convinced I was that socialism was the only possible solution for us” (p. 62). His feelings were tribal first and political second. There are similar examples that demonstrate the primacy of racial identity in decisions to adopt this outwardly non-racial ideology. One member of the Bund mentions that “as Jewish youth, we suffered so many inequalities in Polish society that we demanded immediate and radical solutions” which in turn kept him from feeling “any affinity” towards “European social democrats, especially German socialists . . .” (p. 66). Another Jew describes how, for his father, “the prophets were precursors of Marx” (p. 47). A Jew from Spain is also quoted: “There was such a high proportion of Jewish youth in the communist movement here that you could almost say it was a Jewish national movement” (p. 61). This was not a coincidental overlap of radical Leftist politics and Jewish interests in Europe. There was a direct link from one to the other: a hostility to Europe and to Europeans (even white Leftists) were the driving forces behind the Jewish embrace of communism and other far-left movements.

The crackdown by white governments on Leftist subversion in the 1930s strengthened what was already a strong sense of camaraderie among these Jews, who, unsurprisingly deemed this political repression as originating in anti-Semitism, which is to say, a hatred of Jews as Jews as opposed to a natural reaction to Jewish behavior. Interviewees in the book recount tales of illegal immigration throughout Europe abetted by other Jews in order to escape hostile conditions in their home countries; others tell of being imprisoned and benefitting from fully functioning inmate-run support systems in prison, along with aid from Jewish and Communist sources from outside. But as borders tightened and Leftist agitation was increasingly resisted, according to some of the participants quoted in the book, even Communists began to demonstrate anti-Jewish sentiment. And this political camaraderie that had developed was always to be of secondary importance to racial solidarity among Jews, as indeed it seems to have been for whites (although separating Jewish paranoia and hyperbole from fact is always a tough task). For example, one Jew interviewed quotes a white Communist as saying that “Hitler was quite right” at a football match against a Poale Zion club (p. 87); another remembers that French Communists were not fond of illegal immigrant workers and “[launched] the slogan ‘Full up here!’ in 1937, which sounded unpleasantly similar to the xenophobic right-wing slogan ‘France for the French!’. . .” (p. 87). This, of course, makes perfect sense from the perspective of anyone who actually has a true concern for native workers but not for one whose primary concern is for the safety and comfort of Jews.

In their chapter on the Spanish Civil War, the authors and their subjects explain the Jewish experience of the war and its effect on the wider Leftist struggle in Europe. Jews from all over Europe and the Middle East descended on Spain because, as one Jew stated:

My commitment for Spain was above all a commitment against fascism. I had a double motivation, if you like. As a communist and as a Jew, born in Palestine into the bargain. Jewish national feeling was strong in me, and hatred of fascism was natural. It was certainly not by chance that several hundred young people left Palestine to fight in the ranks of the International Brigades–the overwhelming majority of them being Jewish (p. 102).

Note that his “commitment” to Spain, a country to which he had no connection, was based on a hatred of fascism which he deemed antithetical to his Jewishness. As the authors put it, “[t]hey understood by instinct, better than others, that it was the fate of Europe, the fate of the workers’ movement and the European revolution, that was being played out in Spain — and thus their own destiny as revolutionary Jews” (p. 103). This instinct (racial sentiment) compelled them to fight against traditional European culture or anything that even hinted at developing into a climate that would be inhospitable to Jews. The right-wing movements in Italy and Germany at the time, which the authors refer to as counterrevolutionary (they were not), were resisted as well, despite both having very real concerns for the plight of workers, and, certainly in the case of Fascism, even having direct roots in Leftist intellectual movements (p. 104).[2] [3] Jewish collective security is almost always the focal point of Jewish political action. A further example of this is the reaction among Jews to Stalin’s purges, news of which began to trickle into Spain at this time. As soon as it became clear that the Soviet Union was not going to be the Jewish paradise they believed it to be, loyalties were quickly dropped. Not all Jews who entered Spain as communists left as communists (p. 129).

The authors deal next with the Resistance during World War II. They begin by declaring that they wish to move away from the “rose-tinted stereotypes” of “the cult of great heroes” and “the petrification of the action of the martyrs in rituals of memory” but then proceed to do just that, as if “hunger and fear, missed encounters, tiresome tasks, boredom and greyness, pain and anguish” (p. 132) in the context of meaningful struggle are not always tinged with heroism. One immediately detects Jewish fraudulence here: an avoidance of the unfashionable “Eurocentric” and patriarchal concepts of heroism and martyrdom–to the point of explicit rejection–while slyly piggybacking on the utility of their inevitable presence. Nevertheless, the Resistance is framed as particularly important to Jews. They quote Lucien Steinberg, a Jewish historian:

Whereas for the non-Jewish individual participation in the Resistance increased the risks of death, for the Jewish individual this very participation gave him an additional chance to survive, more or less according to circumstance and place…To sum up, among all the human groups in Hitler’s Europe, the Jews were the only ones who were absolutely obliged to disobey his law if they wanted to physically survive (p. 133).

Though they qualify his statement by arguing that it does not take into account the differences between the Jewish experience in the East and the West of Europe, it is clear that they fundamentally agree with it. Even if we assume that everything about the World War II story is true, this statement demonstrates the incredibly high degree of ethnocentrism among Jews: for Jews, the entire war was about them and they were its only meaningful victims.

The fundamental role of race in Jewish political action is also highlighted by the discomfort Jews experienced when their brand of supposedly international resistance met the “the frequent outbursts of chauvinism” to be found among whites fighting Hitler on the basis of national feeling (p. 144). One Jew who was a member of the French Resistance was typically deceptive: “The population had to be mobilized around general themes, such as liberty, independence . . . On condition, of course, that this was understood as just being a tactic, limited in time and adapted to an exceptional situation” (p. 145). Jews manipulating whites for their own ends, lying to accomplish their own racial goals, even if it means putting whites at risk of death, is certainly nothing new. The authors ask whether it “[damages] the patriotic image of the Resistance to accept that during the year of 1943 the greater part of partisan actions in Paris were the act of foreigners” (p. 147). The answer is, of course, yes, because even if we accept German occupation as “bad,” agitation against Germany by Jews purporting to be acting on behalf of actual Frenchmen, whom we can no longer be sure even viewed the situation in the black-and-white terms in which history has remembered the occupation, is certainly much worse.

In the East, Jewish communities tended to be more isolated and so their resistance did not have to be bound strategically to white patriotic feeling. Additionally, some of the white resistance fighters were not friendly towards Jews either. And why would they be considering only what has been presented in this book, which is only a microscopic fraction of the historical tensions between whites and Jews in Europe? This isolation coupled with a deeper indigenous awareness of the Jewish problem created a more drastic situation for the Jews. The authors spend quite a bit of time focusing on the Warsaw Uprising and regret that it has become a “lifeless symbol, if not something worse, an advertisement” (p. 168), by which they mean, an event that can be neatly placed into a Zionist narrative, a story of communist heroism, or a “kind of stoic sacrifice designed to shake the conscience of the world” (p. 167) depending on the agenda of whoever is recounting the tale. But in the very next sentence they write that what they call rituals of commemoration, celebration, and recuperation “almost lead to the resistance and combats in other ghettos being forgotten . . .” (p. 168). Are we then to believe that they are above using the Warsaw Uprising for their own purposes? Are they not attempting through a deconstruction of its memory to validate their own particular revolutionary interpretation of its history? Contemporary historians often seem to forget that reading history “against the grain” is also to construct a new narrative. It cannot be otherwise. Deconstruction moves forward through time no less than construction.

The chapter in which the Warsaw Uprising is discussed also includes further discussion of partisan fighting under German occupation in the East, most of which is standard fare–tales of personal hardship, hatred towards whites, espionage, the use of the word “extermination” to describe German victories in battle. But the authors end with something that deserves to be mentioned for its typical Jewish audacity: the bittersweet paradox of the triumph of the anti-fascists but the end of “their native soil of Yiddishland” which had “been wiped off the map, and along with it the social, cultural, linguistic and historical fabric of their own existence” (p. 175). The Jewish academic cries out in pain as he strikes you! As if this were not enough, the authors include a quote on the subject from the Jewish author Richard Marienstras which is worth reproducing here in its entirety:

‘Let a Frenchman try to imagine,’ wrote Richard Marienstras, but could he imagine its full consequences, a France wiped off the map, and him finding himself with a handful of French-speakers among men quite ignorant of what had been the collectivity to which he belonged, and whose customs, landscape, history, cuisine, institutions, religion and economy defined the concrete modalities of his membership of the human race. What then would be his taste for living, what possibility would he have of defending himself otherwise than in the most external fashion with the project of the community in which he found himself (pp. 175-76)?

Frenchmen, of course, no longer have to imagine such things at all largely because of people like Marienstras and his fellow tribesmen.

In the fifth chapter of the book, the authors tackle what is one of the defining historical developments of the 20th century: the break between the Jews and Stalin and the disillusionment following the realization that the Soviet Union was not going to be a haven for Jews. Surprisingly, it came as a shock to Jews that white communists practiced what they preached and part of the revolutionary secularization of society “involved a bitter struggle against religion, custom, the grip of the rabbis, the permeation of everyday life by the commandments of faith” (p. 183). Having been vastly overrepresented in the revolution and ensuing Communist leadership, Jews under Stalin began to be treated unexceptionally, which, of course, for Jews, means oppressed. The Jewish Communist Party and other Jew-based organizations were seen as reactionary and nationalistic. To be sure, some of the hostility to the culture of what the authors refer to as the “Jewish street” came from Jews themselves as part of their commitment to the Communist project but, as evidenced by support among both Jews and the government for an internal Jewish settlement away from the centers of power, it is clear that Jewish national feeling remained strong and was in conflict with white society, even one that had been radically altered by Jewish ideology. In describing her experience of being granted approval for a transfer to the Jewish settlement of Birobidzhan, near the Chinese border, one Communist official recounted that “though I was a communist who still saw Zionism as a reactionary movement, I was overwhelmed with joy . . . For me, the preparations for the move were a festival, I was madly excited during the long journey, and convinced that we had a great national mission” (p. 208).

But even in Birobidzhan, designed to be relatively autonomous, Stalin’s crackdown on Jews continued and eventually escalated. The authors, after describing a litany of various forms of repression and terror against Jews, with only a few interviewees making mention of anyone else in passing, do not forget to remind us that Hitler was worse because he was guided by “racial lunacy” not the lesser crime of “political and social counterrevolution” (p. 217). What is bad for Jews, whether it is fascism or Stalinism, is very often described as counterrevolutionary–definitions and intellectual consistency be damned. And no matter the outcome, any action directed at Jews as Jews is always worse than one that is concealed behind non-racial motives. The preservation of their ability to slither in and out of masks is a central aspect of their behavior. The authors, interestingly, do admit at the close of the chapter that Jewish “discrimination” in the Soviet Union was not entirely unjustified insofar as (in 1983):

the only emigration visa that Jews . . . obtain in the USSR . . . is one to leave for Israel. In this way, the idea is reinforced in the eyes of the Soviet population that every Jew in the USSR is potentially an Israeli citizen, so that the Soviet authorities are right in mistrusting a community that, part from its official nationality, bears another homeland in its heart (p. 238).

Furthermore, they note earlier that state policy could not explain the relatively high rate of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews in the Soviet Union, which, for the authors, is indicative of an organic social triumph over reactionary, nationalist Zionism, whose adherents often argue that assimilation is the single greatest threat to Jews (pp. 236-37). To paraphrase Greg Johnson, Jews are often the victims of the cultural and racial degeneration processes they instigate. We see this tension here: the authors have a romantic view of Yiddishland (although they would likely deny this) and a deep regret that the Communist experiment failed to be what Jews wanted it to be. As Jews and radical Leftists, they have dual allegiances and thus can neither celebrate nor condemn either side and so, in a sense, hide behind professional objectivity. By accepting assimilated internationalism, the Jewish race will eventually die out. By not accepting it, they must acknowledge the reality of race, of tribal interests, and the validity of nationalism and various other “counterrevolutionary” ideas. The notion of hiding being objectivity might at first seem to be an unfair criticism, but in the context of this idea of dual allegiance, as well as of the rampant biases on display throughout the book, it is reasonable.

This same tension exhibits itself in the last chapter of the book as well. It begins with the authors contrasting two competing world conceptions of Jews: that of the warrior Jew of Zionist Israel who “made the desert bloom and dispersed the Arab’gangs’“ and that of the diaspora Jew which is “not far removed from the typical caricature of anti-Semitic propaganda” (p. 242). Into this conception is no room, they write, for Yiddishland Jews who “did not divide the world into Jews and non-Jews, but above all into exploiters and exploited” (p. 242). Preceding chapters demonstrate the falsity of this statement. The division between Jew and non-Jew is everywhere within the pages of this book, and not, as some might be tempted to think, merely as a reaction to white anti-Semitism. Earlier in the book, one Jew when describing the informal educational workshops held in prison among Leftists says, “My teachers weren’t Jewish . . . but they were very learned all the same” (p. 76). The idea that these Jews did not think primarily in terms of racial divisions is simply absurd. And the interviewees all lived in Israel at the time of writing so the authors must deal with this contradiction.

Many of those interviewed in this book moved to Palestine in the 1920s and joined its communist party or some other Leftist political movement, citing harsh conditions in Europe as their reason for emigrating. Some expressed disappointment to learn that the Zionists there were exploiting Arab labor and that the class struggle was happening in their “new world” (p. 247). Tensions were high between Arabs and Jews, and some of these Jews fought alongside the Arabs and, as one Trotskyite describes, “were against Zionism, against any Jewish aliyah, for a congress of workers of the Arab East, for a socialist Arab East” (p. 251). Most of the Yiddishland refugees into Palestine either became Zionists or left for America (p. 251). Eventually, those who stayed in what became Israel came to “[maintain] its historical legitimacy” while still “[regarding] its social and political orientation with a critical eye” (p. 278). Consider this quote from one such Jew:

This country exists, it has a right to exist . . . For my part, I have all the rights of a citizen, but the way in which those whom they call a minority, the Arabs, are treated is detestable. The very word ‘minority’ is detestable, as I well know having belonged to a minority for decades, Jews. So, let them find another word and stop borrowing the vocabulary of reactionary goyim. I well understand that you wouldn’t give an Arab a position in the army general staff; after all, we’re at war. But at the same time, when I hear the country’s rulers–and not just Begin–most often I’m bothered (p. 278).

Are these the words of a man who sees the world primarily in terms of exploiter and exploited? Are these the words of a man committed to internationalism? Another Jew says that despite his concerns with Arab-Jewish relations leading to anti-Semitism (his real objection to Zionism?), “I feel fully Israeli; this is my country and I don’t have another one” (pp. 278-79). Another Jew states: “Basically, my dream is that one day the state of Israel will cease to be a Zionist state, that there will be a Jewish state, but without the Zionist ideology that is an obstacle to peace” (p. 280). Zionism seems then to be problematic, at least in part, in that it is perceived as an obstacle to Jewish comfort. And this is the source of almost the entirety of political differences within the Jewish community both in Israel and abroad, as anyone who pays attention to such things is aware: what is best for Jews?

In the final pages of the book, the authors restate their position on the tragic disappearance of “revolutionary Yiddishland” from history. They also lament the insularity of Jews regarding the internal dynamics of the Israeli state and their reluctance to display criticism of Israel around non-Jews. Left-wing Jews, the authors write, “redouble their efforts in terms of conferences and round tables” but “most often simply forget to go and cry their indignation and disgust outside the Israeli embassy . . .” (p. 285). Perhaps. But there is no shortage of Jews crying their indignation and disgust in historically white countries about whatever it is Jews feel like complaining about on any given day. What has actually happened is that the inheritors of this tradition of Jewish radicalism have merely focused their revolutionary activities on bigger and better targets. The fundamental aim of modern Jews is the same as those of Yiddishland: the destruction of white cultures under the guise of progress and/or revolution in order to create safe spaces for Jews. White Nationalists should share the authors’ concern that these radicals are being forgotten, not because they are heroes or even particularly interesting characters but because they remind us of the unchanging basic racial nature of the Jew. And, from a political perspective, the book reminds us that international Jewry was and is essentially an unconventional expansionist power and should be treated as such.


[1] [4] It is worth noting that the authors mention that Jewish labor tended to be “concentrated in the handicraft sector” and that “[t]his specific character of Jewish labour was defined as follows by Borochov, the theorist of Poale Zion: ‘The more a trade is removed from nature, the more Jewish labour is concentrated in it'” (p. 32).

[2] [5] See: A. James Gregor, Mussolini’s Intellectuals: Fascist Social and Political Thought, (Princeton University Press: Princeton, New Jersey, 2005).